Author Life Month

February was Author Life Month over on Instagram and Twitter. I decided to post the photos—and captions about the photos—from my feed onto my blog. I didn’t post every day,  but I tried. My favorite day was “Challenge Overcome.” It made me realize that every person struggles to be creative. Everyone has the same doubts and the same insecurities, no matter where you are in your career.

Day one. Here was a breakdown of Author Life Month.

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Day Two. Author photo.

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Day Four. Work in Progress.

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Day 5, 8, 9. Book cover comps, awesome moment, challenge overcome.

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Day 10. Non-author photo.

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Day 16. Where you write.

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Day 17. Where I relax.

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Day 22. Dedication Page.

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Day 23. Bucket List item done.

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Day 26. Favorite book outside of genre.

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Day 27. Your signature.

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Day 28. Favorite event accessory.

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Another non-author photo of when I was in Hawaii a couple weeks ago. 

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So there you have it. Find your tribe, it makes the highs and lows bearable. 🙂

Thanks for stopping by!

  • Tara

 

 

Death in Writing

This past week has reminded me about the frailty of life.

I started writing this blog post about how to capture death in our writing two weeks ago, before some of my favorite people in the entertainment industry passed away. Also, my husband’s childhood friend passed away suddenly and we went to the funeral over the weekend. I thought to discard this post because what is my little voice going to illuminate that others have said better? But I’m feeling brave, so here goes.

First off, I loved David Bowie. I loved his theatrics. He made me brave in my art and I’ve listened to him while I create art, music, and words. As a child, I fell in love with him in Labyrinth and then I became a big fan afterwards. Honestly, the Goblin King stirred the first feelings of being seduced to something that seemed wrong, but made my heart race in an unexplainable way. I talk more about that in an old blog post HERE.

Also I loved Alan Rickman most notably, for me, as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Snape. His voice will forever be one that hypnotizes and calls to us beyond the grave.

*This is where my post begins that I started writing

before any of these deaths occurred. *

I have thought a lot about portraying death through writing. I’ve killed off many of my characters and am in the process of learning the best ways to do that. After considerable searching and research, I thought I would share what I’ve learned.

I’ve gone to many, many writing conferences and realized that I don’t recall seeing very often classes available on how to write about death. Yes, there have been crime scene classes and murderous weapon classes, but not really ones that focus on the aftermath of death. So, I did a little bit of digging through old conference schedules and writing seminars and it’s true, this topic isn’t offered much. And yet, so many characters die in books.

The below photo is one of my most pinned images on my Pinterest account. Which tells me that people are searching for validation and understanding about the grieving process. They are searching for an emotional connection.

Let us, authors, give that to them.

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How do we honor deaths and portray it properly in our novels?

  • First – You, the author, have to care about the character. If you don’t care about them, then your readers won’t care. If they don’t feel a connection, then it will come off stilted, forced, and cheap. “It’s not about the death; it’s about the life.” So breath life into your character before you take it from them.
  • Second – Why is the character dying? Sometimes it propels the story or main character forward and is needed. I both love and hate to kill off characters. Most, well all, of the time it is necessary for the story to continue forward.
  • Third – Have the dying character leave a legacy. Have their death have meaning afterwards. Show how your character has been strengthened after the death of a loved one. Make them proud.
  • Fourth – Don’t leave your surviving characters to grieve alone. I realize that happens in real life, but long passages of isolation in fiction, with only one character, tends to get a bit boring. The reader will start to look for “white space” or dialogue. Your characters can grieve in their own way, but on your timing. Don’t let it go too long with bloated writing. The character might start to come across mopey or whiney and that dilutes a good death.
  • Fifth – Take a break from the scene and then come back to re-read. This is important because often times the writer gets too sappy, or the scene is too long, or not long enough. I fully believe that we should write with your whole heart during the sad scenes. Let the words flow. Then come back with new eyes and see if you captured the emotion you wanted or if it sounds forced or unnatural.

Tips to get in the mood.

 Let me clarify that this is not the action leading to the death. This is the after effects, the grief. This is the shock, the depression, the denial of which your characters will feel after the murder, or sickness, or how ever your character died.

  • Listen to sad, melancholy music. My go-to is Moonlit Sonata by Beethoven (Link to song). On repeat, over and over. I’ll play it on the piano even. Pandora has countless hours of sad melancholy music playlists. I don’t know if it’s physically possible to write about death while listening to poppy or happy music. I’ve found that during these scenes I don’t like music that has words. Except for Darkness, Darkness by Robert Plant. I LOVE that song. Here is the song link. I really hope I didn’t jinx Robert Plant. He’s another old man crush. Even more so than Bowie, more so than just about any musician.
  • Pour out your own emotion. If your scene doesn’t make you cry or sad, as an author, there is no hope that it will make your reader cry or feel emotion. So dig deep. Write the scene with all of the emotion and feelings attached. Do not fight, do not filter your words. It is therapy. Feel what you write, if you want it to be felt by others. HERE is a link to a blog post I wrote about crawling out of a hole, especially when writing a memoir.
  • You have to be in the right mood. Sometimes I want to write action scenes, or kissing scenes :), or happy scenes. Other times I want to write about depression and sadness and darkness :(. The key is to not force what you are not feeling. It will totally, completely reflect into your writing.
  • Go to a cemetery and just sit. Read the headstones, feel the spirits who dwell there. Embrace that death surrounds you. You will hear things, if you listen long enough. Isn’t being a writer observing human nature? So why is that any different than observing the unseen?
  • Visit a mortuary. Over Halloween I took a youth group to visit a mortuary. Yes, I’m morbid like that. But it was fantastic! We asked the mortician all these bazaar questions, visited the crematory, and saw the ins and outs of the workings of the place. I learned so much about the proper care and respect that they give the bodies to prepare them for the funeral.
  • Attend a funeral. Of all the funerals I’ve attended recently, two funerals in the past five years really effected me. I don’t know how to write about them right now without getting emotional, but I will try:

The first one is about my Grandmother. She collected porcelain bird figurines. Ironically, at the same time as her passing, I was right at the crux of a death scene in my novel Broken Smiles. I had jumped around to other scenes because I was intimidated about writing that scene. Months and months before my Grandmother’s passing I had written about ceramic birds that were touched upon in Broken Smiles, but later became my Christmas novella Eight Birds for Christmas.

So, ceramic birds and writing were a big part of my life at that point. Then my Grandmother’s own death came, followed by her funeral. It was an emotional time for me and I lived far away from my parents and siblings. Deep melancholy had been settling over me for a while before. I felt lonely and sad that I hadn’t seen her the days leading up to her passing.

At my Grandmother’s funeral I spoke and compared her aging body to a cage around a free bird and I paralleled it to her ceramic bird collection. Many of the words made it into my book Broken Smiles. During the plane ride home, the words flowed out of me and onto travel pamphlets and any scrap of paper I could find in the airplane. Here are some condensed words, straight from my book.

***

She smelled odd, old, and decaying. Her pallor and limp gray hair made her look eighty instead of forty-eight.

Her voice trailed off. It was strange how long she held her breath.

After a few minutes she let go of her life with a sigh. Her hand fell slack, and the wrinkle lines smoothed on her face.

Her spirit ascended like a bird finally being released from its golden cage.

***

The second funeral I attended was of someone that I had an incredible amount of guilt over. Luckily, about a week before the person’s passing, I was able to make amends. Still, to this day, a huge hole resides where that person used to dwell.

Because of these raw feelings, I was able to relate, fully and completely, with a character I wrote in a novel that murdered someone unintentionally and the guilt that followed. The novel hasn’t been published yet so I don’t want to go into further details, but to me, nothing I’ve written has effected me more. Nothing.

—That is where you need to go emotionally when you write about death.—

There is no skimming around it, no brushing it off. You have to feel the fiery despair of an ernest soul if you want it to be felt by others. You have to live the emotion and recreate it on the page. It is gut-wrenching and hard, but so satisfying.

It’s therapy.

And you never know how your words will effect a reader. Think back to how many times a book made you feel something, or made you cry. Like I said earlier, people are searching for a connection to understand death. Words tie people together.

I hope I have done this topic a bit of justice. If you have comments or experiences in your own writing or reading, I’d love to hear about them.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tara

 

 

50,000 words of leftover casserole

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^^This is why I only wrote one blog post in November.^^

NaNoWriMo was hard this year. There were a few days, lumped together, that I didn’t write anything. Playing catch-up really killed the creative juices.

During the last two days of the month, I had to write 10,000 words to reach my goal. To me, that’s five chapters. Five! Those last words I wrote are comparable to mashing all of the Thanksgiving leftovers into one big glob of chunky casserole.

Early on, I’d prepared a nice, detailed grocery list, recipes, and outline for my Thanksgiving feast of words. See my outline HERE. I prepared for my meal all month and lovingly sprinkled words here and there like seasoned salt and pumpkin pie spice. They were glorious and touched on all of my senses. “Writing is the best thing ever!” I thought over and over, when I was naive and visions of delicious words consumed my thoughts.

The deadline drew closer and I still flitted around the kitchen with a smile, writing words that were beautiful to behold.

But soon it got sweaty in the kitchen. I couldn’t cook up the words as quickly as I had. The flavors began to muddle together. But I kept at it. I cinched my apron tight and pulled up my sleeves. I was determined to create something edible. The timer dinged just after I put on the last of the edible embellishments.

Edible is relative. Everyone has different tastes. I shrugged my aching shoulders and sampled my feast of words.

It stinks. The turkey is dry. The mashed potatoes are blobs of goo. My delicious novel is finished, yes, but it is dripping with plot holes, spelling mistakes, and red ink. Even the crust of the pumpkin pie is burnt!

It stinks BIG time.

But unlike a ruined feast, I can go back and fix things. I can take out and add and make it delicious. I can deconstruct the stinky casserole! The words are at least there. The concept, outline, and rough draft are there. I can clear the air and put gravy on the dry turkey. Pumpkin pie is better loaded up with whip cream and without the crust anyway, right?

After NaNoWriMo last year, I wrote a post on how to edit your novel. It is called “Whip it into shape.”  Here is the link.

I can fix this feast of a novel because I am determined to make it delicious!

Happy writing (and editing)

  • Tara

Thankful

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I sketched this up real quick on a poster board and am excited to see what my family writes on it tomorrow! Happiness is moving every single piece of furniture in your house to accommodate a large family 🙂

I like to write a quick Thankful post each year and I will continue to do so. Here is mine from last year. November is always a very busy month as I join NaNoWriMo and try to write a book in a month. Only a few days left! Eeep! November seems to be the month that I pull out all of my interests and struggle to make something from them. — I work more at the garden center arranging plants and flowers for Holiday preparation, I usually have an art show of some sort, I start working on Christmas songs with my guitar students, and I break out my measly cooking talents and try to mash a Thanksgiving meal together.— All while writing a book in a month.

I am thankful for my seeds of talents, wherever they are in the developmental stage. We’ve all got them. Some of our seeds are buried deep, some have grown and are beginning to bud, and some have fully blossomed. I’ve decided that talents first start as interests. Like, I have no interest in math or sports, therefore I am brain dead when it comes to math terms and incredibly uncoordinated with team sports. I have many interests and struggle and strive to turn them into talents. Planting the seeds, if you will.

I am convinced more and more that when someone has a great talent, they have sacrificed other talents to develop that one. I am also convinced that we can all be great, it’s just a matter of the focus and energy we put into it. To illustrate my point, here are a few examples:

Music – ah, music. I love music. I play guitar, piano, and a bit of violin. I listen to it all day long when I write. It touches my soul unlike anything else. There have been times I’ve listened to a song or paid attention to the lyrics and thought that I should have been a professional musician or songwriter. Ha! Like it’s some easy thing! I’ve found some seeds of interest scattered within myself and I strive to turn music into a talent by teaching what I’ve learned and by practicing a lot. If you’ve read my book Broken Smiles, you will see that the main character is basically living my dream.

Interior design – So, I’ve decorated things on a very large scale, so large in fact, that Disney came in and shot part of a T.V. series in my creation. I’ve decorated for countless parties with thousands of people, and smaller intimate parties in my home. I think sometimes that I should have been a professional interior decorator. Ha! Again, like it’s some easy thing. I’ve got the seeds planted and sometimes nurture that interest, but I wouldn’t say it’s a talent yet. Joanna Gaines from the TV series Fixer Upper is basically living my dream.

Art – This is a talent that always punches me in the gut and makes me feel guilty. Besides writing, nothing I create makes me happier than painting. I walk into museums and tears come to my eyes. I should have been a professional artist. I went to school for it, for heaven’s sake! I have had seeds planted for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I nurture the seeds and little buds or blossoms grow, but then something else captures my attention and my love for painting withers for a season.

But I never fully nurtured all those seeds of shoulda, woulda, coulda, and I’m okay with that. And I’m okay that someone else has developed those talents. In fact, I cheer them on and am truly happy when success comes back to them. Right now I am mainly nurturing one talent, and that is my writing. I don’t know what will ever come from it. I can hope and prepare and practice, and when the stars align, I pray to bless people’s lives with it, even if it is only one person – me.

Last week I watched an interview with the Piano Guys that was geared toward youth. I sat next to my children, their friends, and other youth in my neighborhood.

One of my favorite things I took away from the interview was:

“You don’t have to be a professional to bless those around you. You can do it in small ways. Pray for opportunities to use those talents that God has given you.”

Whether you have made a difference in hundreds, thousands, or even one person, the blessings come from when you’ve acknowledged your seeds of talent and nurtured them to bless others. It’s sharing those talents, no matter what stage they are in, that can bring you joy and give you self-confidence to continue on through the arduous task of practicing and learning to improve.

Another favorite from the interview was when one of the youth asked what to do when you struggle at not feeling good enough and are frustrated with trying to develop your talents.

Their answer, “Change it up. Try a different instrument, play different songs, then combine them all. There is meaning in all the small things we do. Small things beget great things.”

Yes, small things beget great things. Seeds turn into plants, that turn into blossoms, that others can enjoy.

After the interview the youth surrounding me said jealously, “I wish I could play like that. I wish I could make a difference. I wish, I wish, I wish.”

I wanted to shake them and say, “YOU CAN!”

It just takes nurturing the seed, whether it be one or several, that are already planted inside of you and to show your Thankfulness by developing those talents.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Tara

 

How To: Tree Painting over my book pages

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I have had a lot of people ask how I created this piece of art that sits on my mantle.

It’s simple really… Take four years, write a book, and then when you wonder if the words you wrote are any good, shred up the pages and turn them into an art project!

If you don’t have the patience to write a book, I guess you could use sheet music, pages from an old book, or I always thought old maps would be cool.

FIRST:

I found this huge ugly IKEA canvas on sale for maybe two dollars. There was no way I was going to pass it up. You could use anything, really. Be creative! Maybe that old coffee table needs a new face lift. Maybe that sheet of plywood kicking around the garage is the perfect size. Or you could just go to an art supply store and buy a blank canvas.

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SECOND:

Gesso. You can really build up the textures and cover up a multitude of sins. Or do a smooth finish by not adding gesso. It depends on how you want the paper to sit on the canvas. I think it might be easier to do a somewhat smooth finish. But texture is my friend and so I really caked it on. Besides, at this point, I thought I was just going to paint a painting on top. I didn’t know at the time that I was going to cover it up with my un-edited book pages.

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* Here’s a little side note… For a couple years, I used the white canvas during the autumn in my decor. I was marinating what I wanted to do with the blank slate. Sometimes, that is the most intimidating. I am often like that in my writing, too. I’ll stare and stare at an empty scene and then all of a sudden it floods into me. That is how this painting was birthed… I stared and stared at my galley proofs and un-edited book pages that beta readers gave back to me, and I thought I should probably shred them. Then it came to me to turn them into art.

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THIRD:

I took some of my favorite scenes and pages that weren’t covered in red ink — there weren’t many 🙂 — and I soaked them in coffee and tea grounds for a day. Once the pages were dry, I flattened them with heavy books. I also tore the edges so there wasn’t a flat edge. I wanted them to look old.

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FOURTH:

Lay out your pages, then Mod-podge or glue them onto the gessoed canvas. Flatten out the pages gently with a your finger or a roller. The pages are wet and tear easily, so be careful.

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FIFTH:

I mixed RIT dye with Mod-Podge. You could also use the blue or green or red dye. Use your imagination. I wanted to make the pages look even more antiqued than what the coffee grounds did, so I used the taupe color. With a large brush, paint the mixture onto the book pages. Again, the pages are wet and very fragile.

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SIXTH:

Once dry, I painted more gesso on top of the dry pages into the shape of a tree. I wanted my tree to be very textured, so I built up knobs, bark, branches, and roots. Then I painted on top of the gesso with white acrylic paint mixed with linseed oil medium. You don’t have to mix with a medium, I just wanted the paint to be more shiny. Gesso is flat, but maybe you like that look, so just skip the acrylic paint step. Or go crazy and paint the tree your favorite color, or black, or brown. I might even add in a bit of silver or gold highlights on the branches. Have fun!

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* Here are a couple details. I made sure some of my favorite passages and poetry would be in a spot where if one were to look closely, they could read the words because they wouldn’t be covered up by the tree. You can see how textured this is. You will have to really work at it to get the pages smooth. I just didn’t care (or was too lazy!)

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So there you have it. Pretty easy. It’s fun to mesh two different hobbies/obsessions together.

Art and writing.

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My mind spun and I started to do all sorts of paintings on single book pages. I went to the art store and got cheap mat board scraps. I glued the pages on with mat board adhesive. Then I painted on a clear gesso on top of the book page. Then I just painted my image with acrylic paint. I’ve noticed that these started to make the mat board curl. Maybe a masonite board would be better. Or you can just put the painting in a frame with glass and that will flatten it up.

I gave these and other gifts away during my book launch for Broken Smiles. I sent them all over the country. It was fun to receive notes and personal thank you’s. Oh, and I did ask my publisher if that was all right. Another reason why I like my publisher.

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For the preparation below, I added watered down blue acrylic paint to gesso and then painted it onto my prepared book page and mat board. Now, I need to stare at it a while and see what speaks to me.

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I went even more crazy and made a whole bunch of these Bird Christmas tree ornaments out of sheet music. Notice how it matches my book cover. I gave these away during my Christmas novella book launch.

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Doing art projects like these breaks up the monotony of writing. They are so much fun and fairly easy.

I love to hear from you. Have you ever combined your hobbies? You are welcome to ask questions in the comment section and I will answer.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tara

Social Media is a Waste of Time for Writers—Hmmm, Think Again

I have posted about my path to becoming publicized here and how I have battled over the years between plugging in and unplugging. I didn’t have an e-mail until maybe five years ago, and I had my first flip phone only months before that. Strange, I know, especially for someone my age. Most all of my friends started blogs over a decade ago and have a huge following, while I avoided it all, thinking it strange that you’d want complete strangers to see into your life.

That all changed when I began to write seriously. Actually it changed when I went to my first critique and read my query in front of a bunch of strangers. I had completed a novel, written a screenplay, and had boxes full of poetry. Did I want to share it, or keep it to myself? This was a very tough question for me, as I wondered if people even cared what I had to say.

It still surprises me when writers now-a-days don’t embrace social media. I am going to be brutally honest and say that I don’t like it, but I have embraced it. This blog post has really helped me and my approach to social media.
If you have any tricks you use when it comes to social media, I’d love to hear about it.
Thanks,
Tara

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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We’ve been talking a lot about social media lately and I am always grateful for your comments and thoughts. This kind of feedback not only helps me improve my blog, but my also books, because I get a glimpse of your worries, weaknesses, fears, loves, and strengths.

As a teacher/mentor/expert, it’s my job to address those fears and put you at ease or reinforce when you’re headed the right direction and give you tools and tips to take what you’re doing to another level.

There’ve been some comments that have piqued my attention lately. Namely this notion to give up on social media completely to write more books (out of vexation for the medium and the task).

Oh-kay….

Social Media is a TOTAL Waste of Time

Write more books instead of tweeting or blogging. Social media is a giant time-suck better spent writing great books.

I don’t know how to…

View original post 2,020 more words

Info Dumping

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Last month while I was at a critique group, before I began to read my chapter out loud, I asked for them to look for Info Dumps. When I was finished I asked if anyone noticed any. Each person shook their head and said no. Phew, my little plan worked.

I had actually inserted a ton of info into the scene, but no one even noticed. The reason for this is because I turned it into a conversation between two and then three people.

I will describe what an info dump is.

Info dumps are chunks of information “dumped” into the story to bring in back story or information. They usually stop the story and interrupt the flow. They are often author footnotes that the author feels the reader needs to know. More often then not, it doesn’t sound like the character and feels like information shoved into where it doesn’t belong. The reader might begin to daydream or think “why is the author telling me this now?” Blah, blah, blah. An Information Dump occurs when background information is not interwoven with the narrative. Scenes in a playscript are often introduced with a brief information dump to explain the situation the characters are in. Blah, Blah, (have I lost you yet?) In serial television dramas, information dumps often appear in episodes as a brief montage of scenes from earlier episodes, prefaced with the phrase “Previously on [name of series]”. blah, blah, blah (Half of this paragraph are my words, other half was found in Wikipedia)

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“What did you just explain to me?” the person sitting at the computer asked with glazed over eyes.

“An Info Dump,” I replied.

“What is an Info Dump?”

“When the author crams in a bunch of unnecessary detail that makes the reader bored to death,” I answered simply.

***See, isn’t that basically what I needed to say?***

??? How to fix Info Dumps ???

* For me the best way to fix this problem is to include large amounts of information into a dialogue or better yet, an argument between characters. This way, characters can debate and you can sprinkle in inner dialogue and body language to show the reader more details about the scene. Of course, don’t have the conversation last forever either. Interrupt the characters, etc. The scene will then become fast paced and, like the above example with my critique partners, people seem to not even notice.

* You can also sprinkle bits of information and knowledge along the way so it doesn’t become one long piece of narrative.

* You can have the info dump become a problem between characters that brings in tension. The scene and characters can change and react as more bits of information and backstory are revealed.

* Try introducing an uninformed character. This person comes into your novel mainly to uncover details and history. You can bring information into your story by having your characters explain things to this new innocent person.

* Relate the information to what is currently going on in the novel. Have your tangents be current in the storyline. Maybe something happens to your character that sparks a short memory therefore causing a conversation starting with “remember when…”

Sharing information in your novel is a balancing act between giving the reader enough information that they don’t become confused — and not giving them too much that they become frustrated and bored.

To illustrate my point, here is a tidbit from my work in progress.

*******

“Sage?” He was looking at me with eyebrows raised.

“Huh?” I asked. “Did you ask something?”

He rolled his eyes, “I asked if you have seen many wolves when you’ve been out.”

“Oh.” I cleared my throat and sat taller in my saddle. Good, small talk is good. “Not lately, but I’ve seen clues that the packs are growing bigger.”

He nodded. “Do you remember after all the lawsuits and debates, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995?”

I shrugged and he continued, “it was before we were born, but I remember my Dad cursing those dang wolves. He would always get a healthy check from Defenders of Wildlife from their compensation fund. His livestock decreased by 50% because of the wolves.” He adjusted his wide brim cowboy hat.

I smiled. I always loved it when he did that.

He shook his head not knowing I was watching him. “And that was years and years ago. I worry that they have a monopoly over the food supply.” He continued, “Did you know. . .”

I settled down into my saddle. Whenever he started a sentence with “did you know,” it was a sure sign that you’d learn something cool, so might as well get comfortable. Joe knew a lot about a lot of things, especially those issues he was passionate about. He was always reading from the countless books of my fathers. I knew this was going to be a long debate or lesson in wolves.

“. . . the gray wolf is one of the world’s most well researched animals, with probably more books written about it than any other animal  I found all these awesome old black and white sketches of wolves in Yellowstone before 1926. Because, you know, that’s when the last wolf was killed in Yellowstone.”

“Hmm, interesting.” I said wondering where he was going with this.

His eyes lit up when he realized I was kind of contributing to this conversation. “Well, when the wolves were no longer here, the elk population boomed.” He lifted up his hands and spread them out. “I mean so large that they unbalanced the local ecosystem.”

“That’s weird, how so?” I asked.

“The herds grew so large that when they grazed over the meadows and river beds, they trampled over all the new-growth and small trees. So in the end, that’s why the decision to reintroduce wolves won out.” He was quiet for a while as we watched night drip around us. “So in essence, wolves have the power to change the land. They are an apex predator, only humans are their real threat. But I am afraid, because now — there are more wolves then there are humans.”

 *******

This was also pre-edit. I will slim even more of this conversation to just get to the bones of the information. I left it in so you could see the full conversation. I would love to hear if any of you have other ways that you avoid the info dump. 🙂

Have a good day 🙂

-Tara